NBER Study Indicates Lockdowns During Covid Pandemic Were Ineffective – OpEd


The collateral damage from policy choices 

A new study from the US based National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) has corroborated earlier research undertaken by the John Hopkins Institute for Applied Economics that found through a meta-analysis, “lockdowns have little to no public health effects, (and) have imposed enormous economic and social costs where they were adopted.” 

The NBER research paper covering the calendar year 2021, authored by two eminent economists Casey B. Mulligan and Robert D. Arnott found that most deaths occurred in regions that imposed lockdowns, where at least one compulsory, non-pharmaceutical intervention (NPI) was mandated by government that directly restricted peoples’ possibilities, such as limits on internal movement, closing of schools, and businesses, and bans on international travel, were due to other causes, including hypertension and heart disease, diabetes, obesity, drug-induced causes, and alcohol induced causes.

The US based study found that mortality from all causes during the pandemic were elevated 26% for working age adults (18-64), 18% for the elderly. There were essentially no aggregate excess deaths for children. Data on drug addiction, non-fatal shootings, weight gain, failure to have cancer screenings pointed to a new unacknowledged health emergency.

Nearly 170,000 excess deaths within the US during the Covid-19 pandemic were not caused by the virus itself. Other ailments and accidents spiked during the lockdowns imposed by authorities the study shows. 72,000 people died with Covid-19 but not because of it. 

The report suggests that there was collateral damage from the lockdown policy, which were factors that were either not considered or given low weight during policy decision processes. 

While governments gave daily case and death tallies during the pandemic, often without context, the study highlighted the failure of public health authorities to closely monitor whether lockdowns assisted in containing Covid-19 outbreaks or aggravated other health issues. Soaring death rates during the pandemic have not been explained to date. Deaths from other causes such as drug addiction, non-fatal shootings, weight gain, cancer, have not been properly acknowledged. 

The study pointed to the Swedish situation where lockdowns and restrictions were minimised. Sweden’s non-Covid death rates were below the baseline, indicating that minimizing disruption of citizen lifestyles actually assisted in saving lives. 

In another research study by New Zealand economist Martin Tally in the Monash Bioethics Review, a cost-benefit analysis was made of the lockdowns in Australia. The study concluded that the Australian lockdowns do not seem to have been justified by reference to the standard benchmarks examined in the study. 

The major lesson learnt from examining the effects of the lockdown along a number of public policy parameters indicates that many governments did not undertake cost-benefit analysis of imposing lockdowns upon the general population before imposing these measures.

The basic question of what would have been the deaths with restrictions verses without restrictions?, appears to have not been examined by public health officials. The question of what would be the collateral health effects from a lockdown?, equally appears to have not been examined. Finally, the question of what would be the financial effects to families and the aggregate economic effects of lockdowns?, also appears to have been neglected by Treasury.

There is a major failure of public policy on the lockdown issue. This needs to be addressed for the future.  

Murray Hunter’s blog can be accessed here

Murray Hunter

Murray Hunter has been involved in Asia-Pacific business for the last 30 years as an entrepreneur, consultant, academic, and researcher. As an entrepreneur he was involved in numerous start-ups, developing a lot of patented technology, where one of his enterprises was listed in 1992 as the 5th fastest going company on the BRW/Price Waterhouse Fast100 list in Australia. Murray is now an associate professor at the University Malaysia Perlis, spending a lot of time consulting to Asian governments on community development and village biotechnology, both at the strategic level and “on the ground”. He is also a visiting professor at a number of universities and regular speaker at conferences and workshops in the region. Murray is the author of a number of books, numerous research and conceptual papers in referred journals, and commentator on the issues of entrepreneurship, development, and politics in a number of magazines and online news sites around the world. Murray takes a trans-disciplinary view of issues and events, trying to relate this to the enrichment and empowerment of people in the region.

One thought on “NBER Study Indicates Lockdowns During Covid Pandemic Were Ineffective – OpEd

  • June 15, 2022 at 6:38 pm

    The conclusions drawn by the author and the study are incomplete at best, misleading at worst. One can agree there were excess deaths from the population as a result of not working and being isolated. However, nothing is mentioned or analyzed about what would have happened if existing mortality trends would have persisted in the absence of lockdowns. In NY and NJ, deaths would have been significantly higher with more infections in the early months when no therapy existed and especially when the best solution was thought to be to use ventilators and not to use steroids, which had been the normal standard for respiratory diseases. Transmission rates would have easily quadrupled maybe even 10x in these pre-therapy periods, overwhelming hospitals, and causing more excess deaths due to lack of physician access.

    The study takes no account of differing underlying health issues by populations. So although Sweden did not have much higher covid deaths per million, that in great part is due to that population being in better health than Americans. Also, while Sweden didn’t officially lockdown, citizens effectively did much of it on their own, at about the same rate as Americans, where 40% of the country did not follow lockdown protocols. Within the US, if you look at the San Francisco Bay Area, the location of the first known covid case in the US and a substantial population that travels internationally, covid death rates were far below the rest of the country, mostly due to almost the entire local population following lockdown protocols. Sure, it could be done more easily as more people could work from home, but that’s the point: the lockdowns WERE effective there.


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